It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and one image in last Saturday's Hawke's Bay Today encapsulated just how brutal a career in politics can be in a way that no words could.

There, on page five, we saw the former Transport Minister, Simon Bridges, the former Mayor of Hastings and president of Local Government New Zealand, Lawrence Yule and Alistair Scott, the MP for Wairarapa with the CHB Mayor.

Dressed in business attire, they are pictured beaming at some sewer ponds you'll find somewhere near Waipukurau if you really have nothing better to look at and nothing else to do.

Life hasn't changed much for backbencher Alistair Scott, but in the last few months, Messrs Bridges and Yule have plummeted from high profile positions of authority to political impotence.


I had some respect for Lawrence Yule as Hastings Mayor, but when he announced that he was seeking the National Party nomination for Tukituki, I could not understand why he would want to become a government backbench MP.

However, with National's defeat in the 2017 General Election he's fetched up in the even worse position as an Opposition backbencher.

It's Lawrence's kind of disappointment which drove leaks revealing dissatisfaction around the National Party's "leadership team" this week.

This term means Bill English, his deputy Paula Bennett and campaign manager Steven Joyce.

My guess is that the outcome of the September 2017 poll is at last sinking into the National Party caucus now that Parliament reassembles for 2018 and that some questions about exactly how the party now finds itself on the Opposition benches are finally getting asked.

Mr English had to waste some precious political capital on Wednesday hosing down the rumours and while no one in his caucus was prepared to risk putting their hand up for the top job at the moment, that doesn't mean the issue has been put to bed.

As one who was involved in as many political losses as wins, I well know that there is always finger-pointing as a defeated party tries to work out what went wrong.

Even so, it seems improbable that Bill English will be challenged anytime soon. It is generally accepted that he performed reasonably well last year, there is wide respect for him within the National Party and indeed amongst opposing political parties, and it would seem logical for National to wait and hope that the gloss wears off Jacinda and her new team.


As we discovered with Sir John Key, however, this may be a long wait.

I was first alerted to Bill English's huge potential by my old friend, the late Sir Paul Holmes, many years ago.

Paul had returned to university in an attempt to complete his degree and found himself in a tutorial with Bill English. Paul had a good political radar and even those many years ago, told us he'd met a future PM.

I have met Bill English on a couple of occasions and can report that there is warmth about the man that doesn't come through on television.

However, his relative success last year and his stated intention to lead his party in 2020 means this week's rumblings will continue until National's polling is affected at which time the rumbles will solidify into a real challenge.

I can't seriously believe that knocking off English's deputy, Paula Bennett, would make the slightest difference to anything, so the leaker who set off this week's speculation may well have had Steven Joyce as his or her target.

According to insiders, Joyce is still calling the strategy shots at National's weekly caucus meetings and this irritates more than a few National MPs who blame his campaign choices for National's defeat.

The narrative goes that Joyce made three mistakes which, in combination, proved fatal.
First, when Winston won the Northland byelection, Joyce should have offered him the seat for life, just as his party did with Peter Dunne and David Seymour.

That would have tied New Zealand First to National and made it very difficult for Winston to have opted for Labour.

Second, in keeping with his campaign management style, Joyce didn't bother much with an "on the ground campaign" and did not therefore maximise National's tally of special votes.
This meant that the party crucially lost two seats on the special votes, again making it a less likely choice for New Zealand First.

Third, he grabbed the limelight from his leader by claiming there was a multibillion-dollar hole in Labour's budget. No reputable commentator supported this nonsense, but Bill English had to demean himself by defending his colleague.

There's an element of truth in all of these charges so my advice is that if the Nats need to do a bit of early blood-letting, there's no better choice than Steven Joyce.

Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.